Women & Work
1858: Minnesota was established as the 32nd state in the
union. A vast majority of the 150,000 inhabitants worked as farmers,
small business owners, mill workers, teachers, and in-home workers.
The type of work available to a person performed was based largely
on their gender, race, ethnicity, and ability. The first reference
to organized labor was a newspaper account of a two-day strike
by the journeymen tailors of St. Paul in 1854. The outcome of
the strikers efforts were not published.
performed an enormous amount of unwaged work to help support
soldiers from the 1st Minnesota Regiment during the Civil War.
Women sewed uniforms, nursed the wounded, raised funds, and
wrote more than 1,800 letters per week.
Training schools for teachers were opened in Winona, Mankato,
and St. Cloud. For the first time, women were allowed to attend
and train for a profession outside of the home. Female teachers
earned $13.00 per month ($8.00 less than their male counterparts)
and were required to follow strict behavioral guidelines: they
must remain single, adhere to a curfew, and abstain from alcohol,
tobacco, and harsh language. Similarly, male school teachers were
required to refrain from card games, taverns, and tobacco. A teachers
duties often went beyond educating children to include cleaning
the schoolhouse and chopping wood.
Minnesota Education Association (MEA,) was founded as a professional
organization for teachers and administrators.
The Minnesota chapter of the Womans Christian Temperance
Union was formed. In addition to prohibition, the organization
stridently worked for pay equity, and to improve the working
conditions for women.
The first local assembly of the Knights of Labor was chartered
in Minneapolis, and a second assembly was formed in St. Paul
a year later. Other locals were quickly organized in Stillwater,
Duluth, Albert Lea, Austin, Winona, Barensville, Brainerd, Rochester,
and Dresbach, and by 1887 there were 85 assemblies with 6,500
members. The Knights worked to unite all workers, regardless
of their skill, race or gender. Anyone was welcome to join an
except lawyers, bankers, stock brokers, gamblers, and those
in the liquor business. The only labor organizations who chose
not to affiliate with the Knights were the Bricklayers and the
Typographical Unions. The Knights rally cry was, "An injury
to one is of concern to all," and they struggled endlessly for
improved working conditions, fair wages, the eight hour work
day, and job security. Eventually the Knights erected a three
story Labor Temple in Minneapolis.
some workers lobbied for pay equity, wages were very low
for most women, who were seen as contingency workers. The
Minnesota Department of Labor reported that "Complaints are
often heard that women do not earn as much wages their services
justify, and that women, doing the same work as men, receive
less pay." A century later, gender based wage inequities
continue to exist.
organizer and reformer, Eva McDonald Valesh (a.k.a. Eva Gay)
wrote a series of articles for the St. Paul Daily Globe,
one of which revealed the intolerable and unsafe conditions
endured by female factory workers.
According to a census report, 4,460 children, between the ages
of 10 and 14, were "gainfully employed." While most children
worked on farms or as household servants, over 1,000 worked
in manufacturing plants or in the trades.
Farmer, a magazine for farm workers, was moved from North
Dakota to St. Paul to be near the University of Minnesotas
Department of Agriculture. Shortly after this, The Farmers
Wife, a magazine devoted to issues concerning female farm
workers, was launched in Winona.
an effort to colonize Native Americans, legislation was passed
that required all Indian children to attend government run
schools. The children were forced to abandoned their cultural
methods of work and learn "white" methods of industrial labor.
After their schooling was complete, many Indian children
returned to their reservation, only to find their new methods
of work were useless in preparing them for a productive life
on their reservation.
Taxpayers Business and Laboringmens Movement
of the Twin Cities was established in St. Paul. The organizations
platform discouraged members from patronizing companies which
employed child labor, underpaid their workers, or instilled
a sweatshop environment. Their platform also required that
all women stay at home, except in cases where a woman was
widowed or her husband was invalid. In that case, the woman
should receive equal pay for equal work, but only after the
woman exhibits a certificate from the Labor Commissioner
validating her situation.
Minnesota passed legislation that finally allowed women to control
their earned wages, and to own property. The courts, however,
still generally considered any property that was obtained after
marriage to be that of the husbands.
As the textile industry grew in Minneapolis, many young women
obtained employment in the factories where they would earn
$5 to $7 per week. If there was any money left after she
paid for rent, food, and clothing, it was sent back home.
Some womenÕs families would require them to work in order
to pay for the male siblings school tuition.
Women who live and work on Minnesota farms contribute enormously
with their unwaged labor. In addition to their work as a
cook, laundress, domestic servant, nurse, and daycare provider,
farm woman were also in charge of the poultry livestock,
eggs, and the vegetable garden. The extra cash a brought
in by selling eggs and vegetables made the difference between
a farm being viable and having to take a loss.
The employment opportunities open to women in the waged workforce
were extensions of their unwaged work within the home: factory
work such as sewing or canning, domestic servant, teacher, nurse.
Women continued to be responsible for the unwaged work within
the home, even if they did work a full-time waged position outside
of the home.
The majority of women who worked as domestic servants could
usually expect to receive a room, food, and a uniform. In
return they are required to give up their personal time to
be at the beck and call of the family that employs them.
As the rate of unions increase, so do the rate of womens
auxiliaries. By 1945 nearly every organized labor union had
a ladies auxiliary. Most women were banned from union membership,
but they were instrumental in the success of them. Women
were nurturer, morale guardian, staffing food, walking the
picket line, medical support, raising funds, but the were
excluded from decision making and basically viewed upon as
Minnesota was first in the nation for women working for wages
outside of the home. One in nine women could be most likely
be found employed as a nurse, teacher, domestic, or factory
worker. In Minneapolis, 28.1% of women were the main income
provider, and in 29.6% in St. Paul. However, the vast majority
of women were expected to confine their work to the unwaged
chores of home cleaning, cooking cleaning, child care, and gardening.
Women continued to join clubs, organizations, and auxiliaries,
in order to gain a collective voice against the poor wages
and working conditions associated with both male and female
work. Both former president Grover Cleveland and the editors
of the Ladies Home journal warned women against joining
such groups and viewed them as a threat to the well being
of the home.
As more school governing boards are formed, they quickly establish
qualification and guidelines for employing teachers. Their preferences
are mainly for young, white, unmarried women to teach the elementary
grades. The wages were set according to gender. Eighty-five per
cent of all teachers in Minnesota were women who earned an average
of $39 per month, compared to male teachers who earned an average
of $49 per month.
Minnesota joined two other states in setting minimum standards
for nurses, the main employment option available to women interested
in the medical field. Nurses generally worked 12 hour shifts,
6 days a week, for minimal pay.
Approximately three hundred women living on the iron range
were employed outside of the home. Women in the more professional
jobs, such as teachers, nurse, and store operators tended to
be American born, while women employed in the non-professional
fields such as domestics, laundress, chamber maid, waitress,
tended to be immigrant women. Up to 30% of the immigrant women
earned extra money by offering bordering services within their
home. Because the miners worked a variety of shifts, the women
who boarded them had to work virtually around the clock to
prepare meals and clean for them.
The number of Minnesota children working full-time rose to 5,706.
Ten years later, the number dropped to 3,725, but rose again to
over 5,000 by 1940.
Women represented 1 in 4 workers in the waged workforce. By
1930 they represented 3 in 10, and by 1940, they were 1 in
3. These numbers are greatly underrepresented as they only
refer to waged work, and do not count women who are employed
in seasonal, temporary, or part time work. A year later, the
Minnesota Bureau reported that over 70% of women who worked
for waged earned barely enough to survive. Women were often
relegated low paying jobs with little opportunity for advancement.
Due to their low wages, many women were forced to view marriage
as a necessity for their economic survival. Among the more
popular positions for women were teacher, nurse, domestic servant,
and factory worker.